For daily wit & wisdom, sign up for the Almanac newsletter.
Even though the basil may enjoy an extra-long growing season when warm weather sticks around, I am not ready for the party to end. I plan to keep my basil pots alive indoors to extend their life as long as possible! Here are tips on how to care for your basil indoors and keep that taste of summer (and the pesto!) going.
The basil plants in the garden were spectacular this year. I think the key was growing them under light weight row covers to keep the 4-lined plant bug off them. I could peel off the cover at intervals, cut the plants back hard, and replace the covering. When I noticed that the plants had started to push back on the cloth and fill out the bed, I knew it was time to cut them back again. No bug damage and the leaves were very clean. Lots of pesto got tucked into our freezer this year.
Just to make sure we had enough basil, I also planted a few in containers to have near the kitchen door. One of these is still going strong so it will be coming inside for the winter.
Even though basil is an annual and will eventually die, this pot should keep me in fresh basil until some newly planted seedlings pick up the slack. Because, as you may know, life without basil is not worth living!
New seedlings will give you a fresh start or you can overwinter an existing plant.
If you are considering wintering over one of your favorite basil plants here are a few tips:
Sun - For the best flavor and good growth the plants will need 6-8 hours of sunshine a day. If you need to resort to growlights to provide enough light you will have to keep them on for 12 hours each day. Invest in a timer.
Warmth - Since basil is a tropical plant native to central Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, it is going to need a warm spot to thrive in. Try to keep it near 70 degrees and out of cold drafts.
Soil - A light, well-draining, compost-based potting soil is my go-to for any container plantings.
Feeding - A compost-based potting soil can keep the plants happy for the dark days of winter when growth will be slow. If necessary you can feed them with a half-strength organic fertilizer. Stay away from high nitrogen fertilizers though. Your plant will have better flavor if not overfed.
Water - Keep the soil evenly moist without being soggy. Stick your finger in up to the first knuckle to test for dryness. Basil will start to wilt if it doesn't have enough water. They appreciate some humidity so mist them every so often to counteract indoor dryness.
Harvest - Clip your plant often to encourage branching. Cut it at a node where new growth is starting and the plant will become bushy and full. Don't cut it too far back. It needs some leaves for photosynthesis.
Flowering - Don't let it flower! The flavor becomes somewhat bitter after the plant has started to bloom. As annuals, they will go to seed and die after blossoming.
Inspect for bugs - Any plant brought in from outside should be checked for stowaways. Give the top and bottom of the leaves a good spraying and check the pot, especially under the rim for any insects or eggs.
If you are digging up a plant from the garden try to keep as much of the rootball intact as possible. A large plant that has been growing in the ground all summer will be hard to bring inside. It will probably resent being crammed into a pot and sulk for a few weeks before dying. Take some cuttings from it instead.
They will root easily in a glass of water and give you healthy new plants to grow on the windowsill.